Do you ever feel taken for granted? Do you long for a thank you? For more in return? Or maybe for some help with all your responsibilities?
I know I do. And I know a bunch of other Boomer women who do. We grew up expecting we would be supported by a husband. Then we fought for the right to get a good education, to work at something jobs not open to our mothers. We worked at breaking those glass ceilings. And we had a good bit of success. We did not expect to out-earn our husbands, but many of us do. We did not expect the last recession to put more men than women out of work. We did not expect our longevity advantage over men would mean we would be the ones who should hold off on taking Social Security. Now, many of us support our husbands, who find themselves redefining unemployment as early retirement because they can.
But it is not just Boomers. It’s younger women, too. Taking care of kids and a home is a lot of work! Doing it on top of a career is a huge amount of work.
And it’s men, too. They put in long hours at work, then come home to plenty of chores at home. Many of them are very active dads, coaching soccer, attending school plays, doing homework with the kids while Mom’s off at a meeting or a class.
And it’s not just the employed men and women. Work expands to fill the time available, and scary work, like applying for jobs or teaching your kid to drive, can exhaust you just thinking about it. It may look to your spouse like you’re relaxing when you’re actually just trying to take the edge off your fears so you can dig in.
And so we get angry or frightened, wondering how someone who loves us could depend on us to work this hard without rewarding or even appreciating our efforts.
In my first marriage, I was caught up in this all the time. In my second marriage, the feeling lasts only a very short while. Here’s what I do about it:
- I remember that day after my first husband died, when I had to come to terms with what adult life really entails. Could I really say I had been doing those things for him? Almost everything I had been doing still needed doing. And so did almost everything he had been doing: not just cooking dinner and washing clothes and reading to our son, but earning his game theory professor’s salary, too. For some crazy reason, I had always stuck the two lists side-by-side and proclaimed mine longer. Now I saw that almost all of his list had been chopped off of mine and was a major blessing, even if I was right that it was shorter.
- I let my husband know what I need. If it’s less to do, I will ask him to tackle one of my chores. Most times, he will say yes, unless I have just implied he’s not pulling his weight. Somehow, he’s never in a generous mood after I do this. If I want a thank you, I will announce completion of a chore: “And once again, our floor is clean and ready to start the day!” Or, as I cross the room to my desk (since I work from home these days), I will announce, “Off to make the donuts. Got a lot of work to do today to feed our hungry mouths.” It usually gets a smile and a hug, often a thank you.
- I pay attention to what my husband does. When he was commuting to a tough multi-month consulting gig, I would make a mental note when his long drive was over and his day beginning. I would recall if he had a meeting today (those were the worst) or if he had said what he would be working on. I would picture the uncooperative people there failing to return his calls or answer his questions. And as I started cooking dinner, I would picture him getting in the car for that long drive home. It made his daily to-do list look as full and challenging as my own. I felt less taken for granted and more grateful as he limped out of the car twelve hours after setting out, dressed for success, with his travel mug of strong coffee.
- When his work load is less, I still pay attention, just in case he is not paying attention to mine. When we pay attention only to our own list, it’s way too easy to feel taken for granted. I try to remember that what is easy for me is hard for him, and vice versa. He may turn a simple phone call into a major event, but he moves and stacks firewood as easily as if it were carrots. And when he does, I am relieved of a chore that I find really hard work. When either of us remembers to be grateful, it’s likely both of us will.
If you, too, get bogged down by feeling taken for granted, I hope one or more of these will help you shake it off and enjoy the good times with your husband or wife even more.